Guilty Pleasures: Xanadu (1980)
Guilty Pleasures. We all have them. We rarely admit to them. Only in the privacy of the internet do we come clean!
So far this summer, I find myself listening a lot to XANADU. No, not the movie. The movie is absolutely horrid. One of my nominees for worst movie ever made. Only thing noteworthy about it is that it is Gene Kelly’s final musical (what a depressing movie to end a great career on). It also features Don Bluth (THE SECRET OF NIMH, AN AMERICAN TAIL, THE LAND BEFORE TIME) doing feature animation right after getting fired by Disney. There is a fascinating, multi-part installment on the movie that you can read HERE.
No, I am referring to the soundtrack album which did a lot better than the movie (I hesitate to call it a film). I picked up the LP back in the 1980s. I finally got it on CD two years ago.
The album was originally a two-part collaboration. Side One featured songs from Olivia Newton-John, the titular star of XANADU and red hot coming off her debut in the smash hit GREASE (1978). Side Two was the domain of Electric Light Orchestra, one of the biggest groups in the world and still one of the greatest groups of all time.
Olivia’s side was handled by her regular producer John Farr. It leads off with the ultra-hit “Magic”. It seemed like every radio was required to run this constantly in the summer of 1980 and yet I never got tired of hearing it. There are two duets. Olivia sings with Cliff Richard on “Suddenly” which still works as a lovely love song. That song was all over the radio in the Fall of 1980 when I was just starting college. I would head to classes with that song in my head. The other duet is “Whenever You’re Away From Me” – notable only for Olivia singing with Gene Kelly.
The other two songs on Side One are the underrated “Suspended In Time” and the mish mash “disco meets big band” tune called “Dancin’”. “Suspended In Time” should rank up there with the rest of Olivia’s best work.
The ELO Side Two features three classic songs (despite the group insisting that songs from XANADU not be included on their greatest hits collections). “I’m Alive” and “All Over The World” are loud rocking tunes that slide in perfectly beside the ELO oeuvre like “Do Ya” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”. Both “The Fall” and “Don’t Walk Away” are lesser songs and yet just as fine. The whole album wraps up with Olivia and ELO together on the classic title song, “Xanadu”.
So why am I listening to XANADU so much this summer? Probably because it is summer. And listening to the record takes me back to the summer of 1980. I had just turned 18 and graduated from high school. College lay ahead in the fall. But between May and August was a chance to begin spreading my wings with the big huge world of dreams and adulthood just ahead of me. I was writing my first novel. Reading a lot of William Faulkner. Reading E.L. Doctorow’s LOON LAKE. My heart got broken for the first time. I was both scared and hopeful about the future. And despite the fact that 33 years have passed since then, I still feel that way today. XANADU takes me back to those feelings and times.
Is it a great album? No, but it certainly is a fun and breezy one. It leaves me feeling hopeful, romantic, and up! Isn’t that what the best albums should do?
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
Last Friday, my son Ben and I went to the movies. He saw WORLD WAR Z while I took in THE BLING RING. Our reviews are below:
THE BLING RING (****)
By Richard Rothrock
THE BLING RING marks a return to form for director Sofia Coppola after 2009’s low-key SOMEWHERE. Her new film relates the true tale of a group of fame-hungry California teens who began burglarizing the homes of stars they admired: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, and others.
Coppola’s detached, observational cinema is always best when profiling young people still trying to find their roles in the insular world of the rich and famous. MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006) found Marie (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) learning on the job what it means to be rulers of France with little guidance from the courtiers and ministers around them. Unfortunately, by the time they got up to speed, it was too late to avert the French Revolution. They lived such self-absorbed lives in Versailles that they looked genuinely startled when the mobs came looking for their heads. Oblivious as to what they have done wrong.
The characters in THE BLING RING reside in the self-absorbed American version of Versailles: Hollywood, California where everyone is either famous or aspiring to be. These teens have no inner self. The media and their own parents have taught them that being famous is all that matters. If you can’t be famous then at least have the stuff of the rich and famous. And that’s what they start to do.
Marc (Israel Broussard) is a troubled teen at a new school befriended by Rebecca (Katie Chang). She at first appears fun and daring but soon leads him into a string of petty thefts that escalate. They are joined by Chloe (Claire Julien) and the equally detached Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga). All are from upper middle class families. None seem to have any inner life. Life is about being seen: at clubs, on Facebook. They are constantly taking photos of themselves. These are individuals so wrapped up in the outer trappings of fame they have no idea they are already dead inside.
Nicki and Sam are homeschooled by Nicki’s fame obsessed mother (Leslie Mann) whose curriculum is based on THE SECRET. I loved the scene where they make posters discussing women they admire. Mom picks Angelina Jolie. Why? Because of her great face, her butt, and the fact that she has Brad Pitt.
The kids want to be famous and yet the people they admire are famous for not really achieving anything. Fame is achieved by having things. The girls seem to think that by spending time in the stars' homes, by taking their stuff and proudly displaying it on Facebook and wearing it around town, they can buy fame too. And I guess in today’s culture they are not completely wrong.
Performances are riveting. Much of the press has been devoted to Emma Watson and she is amazing as Nicki, the shallow beauty who only lives when she is the center of attention. Loved the scene at the end when VANITY FAIR comes to interview her and it turns into a limelight wrestling match between she and her mother – enabled by Nicki’s newly acquired press agent and lawyer.
But the rest of the cast is just as good. Israel Broussard makes a sympathetic Marc, the lone male of the group and the only one who senses this is wrong yet fears taking any action to stop it because he knows he’ll be exiled from the group. And the group is all he has.
Katie Chang is fascinating as Rebecca, the amoral leader who callously manipulates everyone to greater and greater crimes under the guise of friendship and almost gets away scot-free. Taissa Farmiga, Vera Farmiga’s youngest sister, is even more terrifying as Sam: the member with the least scruples and yet the one who escapes punishment.
When the cops come to take them away, they all look genuinely perplexed, incapable of understanding that they have done anything wrong or transgressed any laws. In this brave new world, the well off always escape punishment, right? It is only the poor and the unknowns that have to suffer jail and consequences.
THE BLING RING starts out being mildly amusing. By the end, it becomes genuinely scary. When we find ourselves staring eye to eye with the craven, unrepentant, and, yes, delusional Nicki – who has learned nothing and, in fact, been rewarded for her crimes – we understand at the final fade out that we are not staring into the eyes of some deviant malcontent. We are staring into the dark abyss of our future.
WORLD WAR Z (***)
By Ben Rothrock
I thought WORLD WAR Z was very good. It had good characters, a good storyline, and a good musical score. Marc Forester (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) was the director, and I now think he is a good director. The film was very fast paced. Right off the bat, the zombie outbreak gets started, and the fall of civilization happens immediately. It starts with Brad Pitt and his family stuck in traffic while moving somewhere else. They begin to hear reports of an outbreak that has gone international. Unknown to them, the zombie outbreak has already reached them. Within seconds, thousands of people are infected and start to go after others.
One problem that I had was that Brad Pitt was just too lucky. Throughout the entire film, he narrowly escapes zombie attacks without getting bitten. Another problem was that in Israel, the zombies got into a walled safe zone by climbing over each other and created a tower to the top of the wall. Instead of forming an ever-growing pile of zombies, they formed a tower that never broke formation. Something like that couldn't happen unless they were climbing through a tube on the wall.
Besides the zombies being so fast that they could knock over anything, the film was pretty good. I thought the effects could have been better, but that wasn't enough to ruin the film. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is in love with zombie films. It is now my favorite zombie movie. They have planned it to be a trilogy, so I can't wait for parts 2 and 3.
Jude Law meets Natalie Portman in Mike Nichols' searing drama. Just goes to show how much of the characters can be set up before a word is ever spoken.
THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942)
Orson Welles' follow up to CITIZEN KANE (1941) is every bit as brilliant despite being cut by 40 minutes by RKO. The opening shows how much narration (brilliantly read by Welles) can set the mood & conjure a bygone era.
Beating The Summertime Blues
Summer has officially arrived! Today is the summer solstice which also means, yes, this IS the longest day of the year. Normally, I am like Daisy Buchanan and miss this day. Mostly because every year it feels like summer has arrived long before the official start date. Winter has a habit of doing the same thing.Amazon
So as we enjoy this first official day of summer and wait for the summer heat to come calling, here are a couple things to help you though to the fall:
I am currently constantly listening to two new CDs. They sound like the perfect soundtracks for summer, 2013.
She & Him VOLUME 3 - Yep, I am a huge fan of Zoey Deschanel and M. Ward. Have both of their previous volumes. This one is not quite as good as VOLUME 2 but I l love the bubbly 1960s sound they have going here. It’s the perfect “drive around town with the top down” record. I like all of the songs really but if I had to pick…
Favorite tracks: “I’ve Got Your Number, Son”, “I Could’ve Been Your Girl”, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”, “London”. Oh heck, play the whole thing!!!!
The Melody Room
Iron & Wine GHOST ON GHOST – Another fun drive around in the car record. I thought they never surpass WOMAN KING (2005) but they have done so here. Their lyrics take you to so many different places in just one song.
Favorite tracks: “Caught In the Briars”, “Joy”, “Low Light Buddy of Mine”. Oh heck, I like them all!
If you’re looking for something more classic to listen to: Brian Wilson’s SMILE (2004) is perfect. His finally completed rock and roll symphony is guaranteed to make you do just that. Love the original version of “Good Vibrations”.
CLASSIC SUMMER MOVIES
You can’t do better than STAND BY ME (1986). Rob Reiner’s perfect coming of age tale makes you feel young (and old) all over again.
SUMMER OF `42 (1971) doesn’t get much due these days but take a look. Set on a New England island during World War II, Herman Raucher’s Oscar-winning, autobiographical script sets just the right tone as Hermie (Gary Grimes) discovers love for the first time. Jennifer O’Neill as the out of reach object of his infatuation is just right. Michel Legrand’s Oscar-winning score is a classic. Directed by the always brilliant, ever underrated Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD).
SUMMER MAGIC (1963). - Yes, I know it is Walt Disney at his most sentimental. Yes, I know the story is old-fashioned and from the lady who gave us MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). I love it anyway. Hayley Mills is gorgeous, Deborah Walley is fetching. The humor is spot on. And the Sherman Brothers songs elevate the whole thing. Burl Ives singing “On The Front Porch” is one of my favorite movie moments.
Watch them all with the windows open and the air conditioner off!
So what is getting YOU through the summer???????
SUMMER MAGIC (1963) – what summer is all about.
Read my 1995 interview with Susan (Chrissie) Backlinie HERE.
The remains of Chrissie Watkins’ body were found washed up on Amity Island’s South Beach on this Thursday morning back in June 1974. We all know what happened after that. How Amity’s summer and reputation was ruined by the reoccurring attacks of a Great White Shark. How the shark was eventually hunted down and killed. How Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) became the island’s hero. How JAWS became the biggest movie of all time. Steven Spielberg became the hottest director in the world. Amity Island was never quite the same. Heck, even movies haven’t been the same.
But I want to take a moment today to remember the QUINT-essential sacrificial maiden who unknowingly triggered these events and paid the ultimate price for our entertainment.
For men of my generation, JAWS’ Chrissie Watkins holds a special fascination. For many of us, she was the first naked woman we’d seen in a movie even though we really don’t see much flesh in the film’s day for night footage: a naked back here, a side boob there, the silhouette of her lithe form gliding through the water.
We know precious little about Chrissie herself. In the 1970s, the name Chrissie was synonymous with bimbo or airhead. Peter Benchley could not have chosen a more demeaning first name for the shark’s first victim. She is an anonymous woman. Easy to pick up. Easy to take advantage of. Easy to forget.
She is a college student who seems to have wandered out to Amity Island on a Wednesday June afternoon in the early days of summer because she had nothing better to do. Maybe she tagged along with some friends who knew some boys renting a house on Amity for the summer. Tom Cassidy (Jonathan Filley) being one of them.
Cassidy tells Chief Brody that he met Chrissie when she got off the island ferry as part of a group though she was apparently not memorable enough for him to remember her name. Perhaps the group of guys and gals all palled around town for the afternoon. Perhaps they ended up at the house for a while. We definitely know they eventually got a keg and some clams and all headed down to the beach. The sun went down. The beer flowed. The weed came out. There was laughter and music and the beginnings of making out. Partners getting chosen.
Chrissie sits alone away from everyone. Maybe she doesn’t drink. Maybe she doesn’t do weed. She appears to not be having fun. Her chin is on her hands. Her hands rest on her knees. She looks bored. She doesn’t really know anyone here. And if she does, I somehow think she is not on good terms with the other girls at the party. She appears to be having doubts about even coming out here.
The evening is starting to wind down. Midnight is approaching (Brody’s accident report ID’s the time as 11:50pm). Soon, boys and girls will become couples and couples will begin sneaking off: back to the house or off behind a dune. That’s how college parties used to work back then. I know because I used to be the guy left alone by the fire, not chosen just like in gym class. It is the worst feeling in the world. Chrissie doesn’t want to feel that way.
A boy is looking at her. It is the cute boy that met them at the ferry. They’ve traded half a dozen looks (and a few smiles) over the course of the afternoon and evening. He probably doesn’t remember her name but she remembers his. Tom. Others call him Tommy.
She stares dead on at him now. Eyes to eyes. No point in being subtle. He stares back. She smiles. She knows that is one of her best features. Her hair and her smile. She can feel her heart starting to race. Her breath increasing under her turtleneck sweater.
He takes a drink of his beer and looks again. She has him. She looks away, a knowing smile on her face. The ocean looks beautiful with the moon and the sound of the waves. She can very easily imagine herself out there. Wet. Making love.
He gets up and walks over. Asks her name (she knew he didn’t remember). No problem. He will. She tells him. He asks what she is doing over here alone. She cuts in. Does he want to get out of here? She doesn’t wait for a reply. She grabs her purse and scampers up the dune: away from the fire and away from this boring party.
He asks her name again. He appears to be drunker than she thought. No matter. She knows how to fix that. A bracing swim and he’ll be ready.
She runs along the dune. Away from the fire. Off by themselves just the two of them so if they get too loud no one will hear. She peels off her clothes one by one: jacket, shoes, sweater. He follows though he seems pretty slow. She reaches the beach, steps out of her jeans just as he tumbles down the dune and onto the sand. She laughs and runs toward the water. Her legs are her best feature. Her legs and her hair and her smile.
She dives straight in. The water is colder than she thought but it feels really good. Like the lake she used to swim in back home in the summers before her parents got divorced. She considers swimming out to the buoy but soon realizes it is further out than she thought. She rolls over and backstrokes parallel to the shore. The feel of the water traveling across her skin makes her shiver. She stares up at the moon. It’s full overhead. That means it’s a night for passion and unexpected meetings.
She doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life yet. She wants to be a dancer but she can’t dance. She wants to be singer but she can’t sing. She wants to write great poetry but she never finds the time to write. More than anything, she wants to be remembered. She stretches her right leg high into the now chilly night air. Feels the goose pimples on her wet thigh. Let’s herself slip under. Alone underwater, she remembers when she was a little girl, she wanted to be a mermaid, have a tail instead of legs, and live at the bottom of the sea. The memory makes her giggle.
She surfaces and smiles. For the first time today, she is having fun. For the first time in awhile, she won’t be spending the night alone. Where is he? She looks back toward shore.
He’s still on the beach! She calls for him to join her, cursing the impatient tone in her voice. How drunk is he? She starts to swim back in. Making it easier for him to reach her. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe a swim is all she is going to get tonight. No poke. No grab. That’s OK, she thinks. There’ll be other chances. She’s only 22.
She pauses and waits, treading water. He’s laying on the sand now. She peers into the darkness trying to better see what he is up to. He appears to be falling asleep.
Her left foot brushes against something just below her. A sharp pinch around her calf and she gets yanked down hard…
Social scientists say that the emotion most in decline these days is empathy: the ability to relate and understand the feelings of another person. When I look at the insane number of characters killed off in today’s movies and video games, I can understand why. We are never asked to connect or relate to any of the victims. If anything, we are supposed to get some kind of cheap thrill from how they die.
It makes me think of Chrissie. A fun loving girl just looking for a good time who had to pay the price for our own selfish entertainment.
I wonder if we aren’t all going to end up like Chief Brody: standing on the beach holding her bag.
For Father’s Day this year, my son gave me a collection of old Saturday morning cartoons on DVDs. I realize the concept of “Saturday morning cartoons” is alien to most of you but there used to be a time when cartoons were ONLY on Saturday mornings. I have strong memories of most of these shows: THE HERCULOIDS, SHAZZAN, FRANKENSTEIN JR., SPACE GHOST, JONNY QUEST, et al. Most of them went off the air before I even entered elementary school. Yet they remain very fresh in my mind.
One in particular is YOUNG SAMSON & GOLIATH (1967). Of all the shows listed above, that was the one show I used to play by myself. Samson was a teenage boy (way before Ben 10) voiced by Tim Matheson of JONNY QUEST, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE and THE WEST WING – talk about a wide-ranging career -- who rode around on a cool motor scooter with his dog, Goliath. His only bling was a pair of gold rings around his wrists.
Wherever they went, Samson & Goliath inevitably ran into bad guys: evil witch doctors, scientists bent on conquering the world, monsters etc. When things got tight, Samson would clang those gold rings together over his head and turn himself into Young Samson (Tim Matheson again sounding like he was now standing in an echo chamber). A clang of the rings in front transformed Goliath from a yappy mongrel dog to a roaring lion. You could tell they were the same animal because both had a matching gray front paw.
Their superpowers (great strength, lasers shooting out of the eyes) varied from episode to episode depending on what was needed to defeat the villain of the day. And defeat them they did! Before moving on, just a boy and his dog.
Before I wanted to be a writer. Before I wanted to be a racecar driver. Before I wanted to be an astronaut, I wanted to be Young Samson.
Naturally, gold wrist rings were rather hard to come by in the 1960s (for boys) so I did what I always did when I could not find a toy: I made it! I drew them out on notebook paper, colored them with my Crayola gold crayon, cut them out with my Lefty scissors, wrapped them around my wrist, and Scotch taped them on! I was ready to go. My favorite stuffed animal, Puppy, filled in for Goliath. Once I clanged my gold paper wrist rings together, he transformed into a large brown teddy bear. Villains beware!
The motor scooter had to be left to my imagination (I wasn’t riding a bike yet).
I wore those rings ALL summer one year. I distinctly remember running around the yard of my cousin’s grandparents’ house in Scott, Indiana: banging my wrist rings together and battling all the imaginary monsters who came in from their field.
“What is HE doing?” I remember Grandpa blurting out.
“Oh, well,” my Aunt Donna stammered, “He’s playing, ah, well, he’s got these rings, you know. And he bangs them over his head [Aunt Donna banging her wrists over her head]. I don’t know. He’s playing.”
And Grandpa shook his head like it was the dumbest thing he ever saw. I remember feeling really embarrassed.
I took the rings off not long after that and never put them on again. Unless I was by myself in my room.
Almost half a century has gone by since I last watched that show but if I were going to be any kind of superhero, it would still be Young Samson.
I’ve got the rings. I’ve got the dog. I’m still working on the motor scooter.
And that transformation changy thing.........(smile).......
H.G. Wells: Do you still maintain this is all poppycock?
Amy Robbins: That wasn’t quite the word I had in mind.
It was probably inevitable that I would fall for TIME AFTER TIME (1979), Nicholas Meyer’s stunning debut thriller. Back then, it had all the elements I had come to adore in my 17 year old heart: time travel, H.G. Wells (BIG fan of WAR OF THE WORLDS), alternative history, a gentle satire of today’s fads, and even Jack the Ripper. Yep, I am an amateur Ripperologist (when my family visited London last fall, I made us go on one of those tours).
I first heard about TIME AFTER TIME while watching Siskel & Ebert. They used to highlight hidden gems: movies they felt were getting lost at the box office. One week they picked TIME. When it opened soon after at the nearby Clarkston Cinema, my all-time favorite movie theater, I was there for opening night.
TIME AFTER TIME tells the fanciful tale of author H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) traveling through time from 1893 to modern day -- well, 1979 -- pursuing Jack the Ripper. It tries to answer questions that history can’t. How did Wells seem so knowledgeable about the future? Did he really build a time machine while writing the classic novel of the same name? Why did Jack the Ripper seem to vanish from history?
TIME answers all those questions and more. It is a neat thriller with an inventive script, solid performances, and some knowing social commentary slid in amongst the thrills and humor.
After Wells discovers that his best friend, John Leslie Stephenson (David Warner) is really Jack the Ripper – and that he has used Wells’ new time machine to escape the authorities, Wells follows Stephenson into the future. They both find themselves dropped in 1979 San Francisco and both soon discover that the future is not what either expected. Wells expected a harmonious utopia filled with peace and understanding. Stephenson discovers that he has to up his game: “Ninety years ago I was a freak. Today, I'm an amateur.”
I’m not going to give away the film’s many clever twists and reversals. They are better experienced without much prior knowledge. What continues to stand out for me three decades later are:
Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells. He strikes just the right balance of nerdy inquisitiveness and debonair charm. He is shy in public but worldly in private. He has a child’s sense of discovery but he is also a man out of step with whatever time he is in: too modern for 1893 and too old-fashioned for 1979. (I can relate!) As he tells Amy in one of their first heart to hearts: “You’re very perceptive. Lost is what I am.” Events in the film force him to change from a man of thought to a man of action. From a man alone to a man who’ll do anything to win the woman he loves. Sorry CLOCKWORK ORANGE. This is McDowell’s finest performance.
This is the film that made Mary Steenburgen a star and she is still a major revelation in it. (Steenburgen went straight from this to winning an Oscar for MELVIN & HOWARD (1980) – another forgotten movie gem). Sexy and funny, feminine and resourceful, Amy uses her brains to figure out the situations she finds herself in. She is Wells’ dream girl -- the only part of the 20th century that actually worked out the way he hoped back in 1893. The romance between them is deeply affecting and the chemistry between the two actors is palpable (McDowell and Steenburgen fell in love during the film and married soon after).
Their romance is perfectly balanced by David Warner as Jack the Ripper. He is sadistic but never wholly unsympathetic. Despite his courtly charm, Stephenson knows he will never be anything but a heartless killer with mommy issues -- symbolized by the brandishing of his pocket watch shortly before he kills. He may be a demon but he knows he is. Part of him wants to keep killing and part of him wants this to end.
Meyer also turns a wry eye on progress. How things have changed and not changed in food, movies, notions of honor, and the battle between the sexes. Many of his observations have only gotten funnier since 1979. In the end, Wells realizes that, “Every age is the same. It is only love that makes any of them bearable.”
In short, the movie blew me away from the get go. This was the age before films regularly came out on VHS/DVD six months later (chronicled here) so I did the next best thing. I saw TIME 4 times at the Clarkston in the span of one week. I bought the novelization. I still regularly listen to the soundtrack album by the great Miklos Rozsa. Wells’ phrase “To be quite candid” has unconsciously entered my common expressions.
There are a few clunky things. Wells seems too smart to pose as Sherlock Holmes when talking to the cops. The film’s 1970s roots make it feel rather dated at times. Many of the locations they visit (the rotating Equinox restaurant, the Hyatt Regency hotel) have since been torn down. It gives the movie a bit of a time capsule feel.
But what continues to hang with me and become even more relevant the older I get is the film’s views on violence. How no society can hope to thrive as long as the population embraces it. As Stephenson says earlier on: “You haven’t gone forward, Herbert. You’ve gone back. The future is not what you thought. It’s what I am.”
When the Ripper starts closing in and the two men clash for possession of the time machine as a symbol of how the future will be, Amy advises Wells to buy a gun. Wells’ response continues to stick with me down through the years. It came back in spades earlier this year when the NRA started arguing after Newtown that we all should start packing heat:
WELLS: I wouldn’t purchase a weapon now even if I could.
AMY: Oh what is this? Victorian chivalry or something? We’re playing for keeps here.
WELLS: Exactly. And Stephenson was right about one thing. Violence is contagious like measles. And the trouble with progress is not that things are more efficient. The trouble is they’re the same things. World War This. World War That. Oh, we’re obviously killing much more efficiently but we’re still killing. Well, I’m not going to stoop to that man’s barbaric level. The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas.
AMY [first time she says it]: I love you.
And I love this movie. It is suspenseful, romantic, funny, and insightful.
To be quite candid, it is one of the movies that changed my life.
Check it out!
A Time Travel Ode to Father's Day
Yes, I know Father's Day was yesterday. I spent it being a father to my son. And I spent it being a son with my father. For me, the best movie example of the complex feelings shared between fathers and sons is FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), Phil Alden Robinson's masterpiece about baseball and fathers and sons and dreams and regrets. This scene makes every man I know (including myself) cry. "If you build it, he will come........."
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT -- THIS IS THE END OF THE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY, DAD!!!!!!!
Current Cinema: This Is The End
**** stars. Do Not Miss!
THIS IS THE END seems to come out of nowhere much like the Rapture the stars of this delightful, inventive comedy find themselves confronted with. A bit of a passion project from Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, and director Evan Goldberg, THIS IS THE END is one of the biggest surprises and funniest films of the year.
Starring many of Hollywood’s current hot comedy talent, the movie starts with friends Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel attending a housewarming party at James Franco’s new house. There they party with the likes of Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Jason Segel, Rihanna, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling and others. The stars are all playing “themselves” or rather, hyped up – or in some cases – outrageously exaggerated versions of themselves. I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is being themselves and who is not.
Into the middle of this privileged bacchanal, The Rapture suddenly strikes and Los Angeles descends into anarchy around them. Many of the little people ascend to heaven. Many of the beautiful people are sucked down to Hell. The survivors hole up in Franco’s house waiting for their expected rescue. “They always rescue the beautiful people first, right?” one of them asks.
As the days pass, the rescue does not come, the meager supplies dwindle, and the best friends start to turn on one another. Cracks already present in their relationships turn into wide-open fault lines. They soon have to face the fact that nobody is coming to rescue them. What happens from there I will let you find out for yourselves.
Films about the end of the world are a dime a dozen these days (at least it is not zombies or nuclear apocalypse or a global pandemic). THIS IS THE END works because, like the best films on any subject, The End is used merely as the jumping off point for a story about characters. There appears to be a lot of improv going on here but the stars are all making fun of themselves. If you’ve ever wondered why there never has been a YOUR HIGHNESS 2 or whether Academy Award-nominated star Jonah Hill of MONEYBALL (how Hill introduces himself to God) is as nice as he appears, the answers will be found here. Maybe. THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962) and the TERMINATOR movies are all invoked and satirized along with reality TV, survival shows, preppers, and exorcism movies to name just a few. The language and humor are all definitely R-rated.
Movies about the end of the world stopped holding any interest for me a long time ago. I read a lot of spec screenplays and the world ending is by far the most popular topic and the one most badly told. So imagine my own surprise when I picked SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD as the best film of 2012. And I am quite confident that THIS IS THE END will show up on my Top 10 list for 2013.
I laughed so hard that it almost got me to forgive James Franco for SPRING BREAKERS.
Last week I wrote about how movies would first show up in limited Roadshow releases before moving into General Release and Second Run theaters. Today, I’ll wrap it up by discussing a movie’s final stop: television.
Once a movie disappeared from U.S. theaters, it literally would not be seen again for around two years (that was the time needed for it to play in all theaters around the world). While a movie may have been out of sight, the studios worked hard to make sure it was not out of mind.
The first way was through the soundtrack album. You could buy it and listen to it on your Hi-Fi stereo, the music serving as the trigger to remember favorite scenes. Sometimes, the movie’s entire soundtrack would be released on LP and you'd listen to the movie as if listening to it on the radio.
Big hit movies would get released on Super 8 for your home projector. Of course these would be severely abbreviated versions. The two hour movie boiled down to 15 minutes. And they were silent. No soundtrack included. You can watch the Super 8 version of JAWS (1975) here.
The most popular way to keep a movie alive in our minds though was through books. If a movie were based on an existing book, a new cover featuring the movie's cast or poster would be slapped on and the book reissued. If the movie was an original screenplay, the studio would commission a novelization of the book released as a mass-market paperback. Fans of the movie snapped them up. Their quality could vary greatly but I happen to think that John Sayles’ novelization of PIRANHA (1978), Curtis Richards’ adaption of HALLOWEEN (1978), and Will Collins’ version of GRIZZLY (1976) are all superior to the actual movie.
Penning novelizations was not considered respectable work for a serious writer -- it is Annie’s profession in ANNIE HALL (1977) – just one step above ghost writing -- but many best-selling authors honed their craft doing this. John Jakes first got recognized for his novelization of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972) then went on to write the popular KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES series.
All these ways were used to tide us over till the movie premiered on network TV two years later. These were always treated as major television events. ABC premiered its new films on Sunday nights, CBS on Friday nights, and NBC on Saturday nights. You can still catch the credits for these movie shows on YouTube:
ABC Sunday Night Movie
CBS Friday Night Movies
NBC Saturday Night at the Movies
Of course, it wouldn’t exactly be the same movie you saw in theaters. It would be edited to fit into a time slot. The movie would be interrupted by commercials. And any objectionable language, strong violence, or sexuality would be edited out or replaced with more acceptable dialogue. In the case of strong R-rated films, whole scenes would be replaced by brand new, less objectionable ones not in the theatrical version. The TV versions of HALLOWEEN (1978) and BLAZING SADDLES (1974) were vastly different from their theatrical prints.
The movie might play once or twice more on network TV and then disappear again. Eventually, it would show up on your local TV station either on weekend afternoons or as part of late night TV. Before FOX and CW came along, independent stations used to counter-program the networks all the time by running classic movies.
Some movies became TV perennials. THE ALAMO (1960) would show annually on 4th of July. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) became an Easter tradition (still is). NBC used to counter-program Thanksgiving football by showing a rarely seen major hit movie from its vaults. That’s how I first saw WEST SIDE STORY (1961) and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966).
But nothing was ever as big as THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). From 1956 to 1998, CBS showed this classic once a year and America stopped to watch each time it came on. It was always one of the highest rated events of the year with over half the country watching.
All of this is gone now. Why buy a novelization when you can own the actual movie? Why watch a cut up version on network TV when you can see the film uncut and without commercials on HBO or Netflix?
And while it is great that we can buy a movie (first on VHS then on laser disc and now on DVD and Blu-Ray) months after its theatrical release, the fact that we can now watch our favorite films as often as we wish, there is still something missing.
Movies have gone from being an event that we traveled to see or stopped everything to watch on TV to background noise for our distracted, multi-tasked lives. The fact that we can watch them anytime we wish often means we don’t watch them at all anymore. And when we do, they rarely command our full attention.
It makes me sad.